I woke up today smiling, which is very unusual because I am a “morning person” only in the sense that I am a person and there is such thing as morning. Ususally it seems as though there is some force-field that oppresses me when it’s time to get up no matter how much sleep I’ve accumulated, although the force of the field is considerably weaker after 10 hours sleep than after 5.
But anyway, last night I finished up painting the basement, a project of seemingly endless duration, and while I switched from roller to brush to get those recalcitrant corners and spots behind the pipes, I listened to the new Buzzcocks record and woke up this morning with the tunes still rolling around my brain – in a good way.
Buzzcocks? Another name from the cradle of British punk along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, Wire, etc., that speaks of the rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll in ’76-’77 as youthful energy, rage, rebellion, assaulted the bloated corpse that was corporate rock and reconnected the music with its explosive birth.
In late-December of ’76, the late great Martin Hannett (Joy Division, Magazine, New Order), under the nom de punk of “Martin Zero,” produced the Buzzcocks first and last recorded work with lead singer Howard Devoto (who left shortly thereafter to form Magazine), an EP called Spiral Scratch.
Little more than a no-budget demo released on the band’s own New Hormones label, the EP is pure and brilliant. “Boredom” is the highlight with Devoto’s spirited vocals belying the title, and the band’s angular, almost-mechanized rhythms foreshadowing Joy Division. Hannett also produced some of the Buzzcocks’ great, cheerfully despondent pop punk of the early Pete Shelley-led period, including “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” “Lipstick,” “Noise Annoys,” “Oh Shit!” and the convulsive “Orgasm Addict.”
With Steve Diggle providing excellent counterpoint to Shelley, singing, writing and bashing out his own tunes (“Autonomy,” “Harmony In My Head”), the Buzzcocks’ outrageously catchy, yet supercharged singles from the time were collected on the indispensable album Singles Going Steady in ’79. The Buzzcocks belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the strength of that album alone.
But then “artistic differences” intervened, Shelley went solo and the Buzzcocks drifted into history. Shelley and Diggle reunited with a new rhythm section as the Buzzcocks in the ’90s for three good but not great albums, performed electrifyingly with three generations of punks at the KROQ/Levi’s Inland Invasion 2 in So Cal last September, and have now put out their best album since Singles Going Steady, 24 years ago.
The tunes are all catchy, the energy up to 11, Pete Shelley’s high, English-inflected tenor still strains affectingly in his upper register on the great “Jerk” “Friends” “Lester Sands” (co-written with Howard Devoto) and “Useless”; Diggle’s rougher bark shines as never before on “Wake Up Call” “Driving You Insane” and especially “Sick City Sometimes,” a classic anthemic romp.
This just rocks and rocks, kicks age in the balls and makes me smile. I’m smiling right now – the Buzzcocks are back – you hear that Rock Hall?